In the weeks following the one-year anniversary of the fall of Kabul to the Taliban on Aug. 15, the ABA Journal is highlighting the ABA’s efforts to help judges and lawyers from Afghanistan resettle, obtain immigration benefits and secure jobs using their legal skills. This is part one in our series.
In early November, Michael Byowitz attended a virtual program called “Women Judges of Afghanistan: A Call to Action,” and heard the harrowing stories of female judges who fled Afghanistan as the Taliban took over their country.
The program, which was sponsored by the International Law Section’s International Human Rights Committee and featured speakers from the International Association of Women Judges, also described the work of non-governmental organizations to help these judges first find temporary refuge in other countries before resettling in the United States.
“Toward the end of the program, I asked a question, and the question was, ‘What are these people going to do for work when they get resettled? How are they going to make a living?’” says Byowitz, of counsel at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz in New York City. “And I specifically asked if there was a route for them to qualify for jobs in the U.S. legal profession, either as lawyers or in other law-related capacities.”
Byowitz, a past ILS chair, had a potential solution in mind. He proposed connecting the Afghan judges with LLM programs—one-year graduate legal studies programs that expose international students to U.S. law systems and legal reasoning. Some states, including California and New York, allow international students who earn an LLM degree to then sit for their bar exams.
He reached out to then-ABA President Reginald Turner and Executive Director Jack Rives, who told him about the ABA Afghanistan Response Project, an initiative a group of entities, members and staff established in August 2021 to assist with the growing humanitarian crisis. Byowitz shared his plan at one of its meetings and got the green light from then-ILS chair Nancy Stafford to work with their colleagues to put it into action.
Byowitz helped launch the Afghan Professionals Resettlement Task Force, which proposed a pilot program to identify a small number of candidates who are interested in obtaining LLM degrees, taking the bar exam and joining the U.S. legal profession. In June, the Board of Governors approved the pilot program, which will focus primarily on female Afghan judges, prosecutors and lawyers.
“Afghan judges, prosecutors and lawyers are highly educated, trained people who have held positions of substantial responsibility,” Byowitz says. “To utilize their skills to the best advantage for them and for the United States, we should have a program like this.”